Life Health

Ditch the gym for better mental health

Thane Burnett, QMI Agency
A jogger along the Beaches boardwalk on May 18, 2008. (QMI Agency/ERNEST DOROSZUK)

A jogger along the Beaches boardwalk on May 18, 2008. (QMI Agency/ERNEST DOROSZUK)

Despite the dog poop where you're just about to step...

And the careening cyclists in their "I hope I look like I'm training for the Tour de France" Spandex...

Or overflowing garbage bins and signs warning you can't swim or skateboard or walk on the grass or have an unleashed pet or chew gum or sneeze too loud...

It turns out, exercising outdoors beats working out in the gym, according to new research.

Experts at the University of Glasgow have found regular exercise in a natural environment cuts the risk of suffering from poor mental health by half.

And people didn't get the same mental gains when they worked out at their local gym.

The new U.K. study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, follows up on past research that's found the great outdoors -- even if it's just a walk around your neighbourhood -- has a positive impact on stress and mood.

The Glasgow researchers went back to data collected from 2008, and traced subjects who reported they were physically active. They found the people who worked out in natural settings did much better -- at least mentally -- than those who trudged into a gym.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Mitchell said he wasn't surprised by the fact exercising outdoors is good for you.

"But I was surprised by just how much better it is for your mental health to exercise in a green place, like a forest, than in other places, like a gym," he explains.

Mitchell says woodlands and parks seem to have the greatest effect.

Not that most people have lush green pastures to prance across; Mitchell's team found most just walk on pavement or streets around their home.

About half the subjects reported they'd gotten outside to exercise at least once in the previous month at the time of the study.

But a weakness in the study is a lack of data on what kind of workout, at what intensity, participants engaged in.